“Boxing Tonight” is i‘s weekly look ahead to the Saturday night action in the UK and beyond, with the details on how to watch and what to look out for, You can sign up for our weekly “Boxing Tonight” newsletter here,
If you were to focus on just the stats ahead of Artur Beterbiev against Joe Smith Jr, it would be neatly poised to do justice to the current light-heavyweight roster as the American battles against the odds to become an unified champion. Beterbiev is the only reigning world champion with a 100 per cent knockout ratio, an unbeaten record of 17-0, and five successful title defenses since he won his IBF belt from Enrico Kolling in 2017.
When you consider the 37-year-old also holds the WBC title, and could add another to his collection if he beats the WBO-holder Smith, it is easy to see why he remains one of the governing bodies’ prize fighters.
Yet Beterbiev’s continued presence at the top of the division only raises more questions about boxing’s stance on Russian athletes. Indeed if he wins, it could lead to an unification bout with Dmitry Bivol, fresh from his shock victory over Canelo Alvarez. It means the authorities could end up in the strange position of having two Russian boxers holding all the belts, at a time when they have supposedly banned them.
WBC chief Mauricio Sulayman recently told Reuters that “no Russian citizens will fight for our organization titles”, but stressed that Betterbiev “has been in Canada for 15 years, he lives in Canada, his children were born in Canada, he has a Canadian passport and Canadian residency – and a boxing license from Canada”.
TopRank have made the same point, but the bout has faced criticism nonetheless, because Beterbiev – who is of Chechen descent – has publicly voiced support for Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a key ally of Putin who was promoted to lieutenant-general for his role in the invasion of Ukraine, Kadyrov, who has been pictured with Beterbiev on more than one occasion, has been sanctioned by the US “for numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.”
Other sports have walked the walk on these issues, even if belatedly in some cases. Wimbledon stayed firm on its ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes, despite threats – which were eventually carried out – to strip the slam of its ranking points. Likewise, Russia have been exiled from European and world football, even when the Champions League final had to be moved from St Petersburg at three months’ notice and Russia were kicked out of tournaments for which they had already qualified, including Women’s Euro 2022.
In that light, Smith will be able to count on a vociferous home support, not far from his Long Island home. “You’ve got two big punchers, and I’m just excited to be in there with him,” he said. “He’s a great name… All my fans are going to be here to support me or, if not, watch at home.
“I believe this guy is in his prime right now. I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I know he’s here at 100 per cent and ready to go. I know I’m here fighting one of the best, so I trained at 110 per cent. I made this camp a little longer. I made sure that I improved things that I wasn’t doing at my best.”
Now holding a record of 28-3 (22 wins by KO), his last defeat came against Bivol by unanimous decision in March 2019. He suffered the same fate against Sullivan Barrera two years earlier, but before that you have to look back more than a decade for his last defeat, which came against Eddie Caminero.
Smith only has a very marginal advantage when it comes to size, so he will look to go at Betterbiev with sheer work rate. Regardless, many are predicting a fairly one-sided contest in favor of the latter – though it is not so long since we saw Beterbiev on the ropes (metaphorically speaking) in the early stages of his win over Marcus Browne. A deep cut on his forehead almost led to the fight being stopped, which seemed to awaken something in him before his ninth-round stoppage.
In Beterbiev’s camp sits trainer Marc Ramsey and coach John Scully, a combination that has made him more formidable than ever. In 2019, when he fought Oleksandr Gvozdyk, his rival was hospitalised and never fought again after a brutal knockout. Betterbiev has spoken with regret about that fight, but conceded these were the potential risks.
Up next, he is likely to face either Bivol – as Canelo won’t be taking a rematch, instead completing his trilogy with Gennady Golovkin – or former British title challenger Anthony Yarde, who is expected to be present in New York to watch the fight . In fact, promoter Bob Arum even went as far as promising: “Yarde will be next – and his chance will come in England in a huge fight for the UK.”
How to sign up for i‘s boxing newsletter
“Boxing Tonight”, i‘s weekly look ahead to Saturday night’s fights is now a weekly newsletter too. Every week, we’ll be talking about the biggest fights in the UK, US and beyond, with exclusive interviews and analysis from i‘s boxing writers.
You can sign up here to receive it straight to your inbox on Saturday mornings.
Beterbiev vs Smith Jr
- Date: Saturday 18 June
- Venue: Madison Square Garden Theater, New York
- Fight time: Ring walks for the main event are expected around 4am UK time
- TV/live stream: Sky Sports Action. You can also stream the action on Sky Go, or with a NOW pass
- Undercard highlights: There’s another chance to see Robeisy Ramirez in action after he beat Eric Donovan on the undercard of Josh Taylor’s victory over Jack Catterall in February; it may have got lost in the controversy of the main event but it was an impressive knockout and it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that performance against Abraham Nova, a WBA North American super-featherweight champion
- i predicts: There’s a lot to like about Smith Jr but this is likely to be too big a step-up for him, as it was when he challenged WBA champion Dmitry Bivol. Beterbiev to win by KO
Subject to change
- Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr (for Beterbiev’s WBC and IBF light-heavyweight titles and Smith Jr’s WBO title)
- Robeisy Ramirez vs. Abraham Nova (vacant USBA and WBO global featherweight titles)
- Bruce Carrington vs. Adrian Leyva (featherweight)
- Jahi Tucker vs. D’Andre Smith (welterweight)
- Floyd Diaz vs. Daniil Platonovschi (junior-featherweight)
- Troy Isley vs. Donte Stubbs (middleweight)
- Kieran Molloy vs. Jonathan Ryan Burrs (junior-middleweight)
- Wendy Toussaint vs. Asina Byfield (super-welterweight)
- Jahyae Brown vs. Keane McMahon (super-welterweight)
Any other business
- Hughie Fury and Michael Hunter’s world title eliminator in Manchester has been postponed due to Fury falling ill; Ricky Hatton’s exhibition match, which was also due to take place on the same night at the same venue, has also been pushed back to 12 November.
- Former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker is on the hunt for an opponent after signing with Boxxer. Dillian Whyte and Joe Joyce are both possible.
- George Kambosos Jr has activated the rematch clause after losing his lightweight titles to Devin Haney
- As i reported earlier this week, Anthony Joshua’s DAZN deal will include pay-per-view fights – despite that’s pledges not to use the model when Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom first teamed up with the broadcaster.
You can now get “Boxing Tonight” straight to your inbox – for exclusive interviews, analysis and previews of Saturday night’s fights, sign up here